The Lewy Brothers

Eduard Constantin Lewy (1796-1846) and Joseph Rodolphe Lewy (1802-1881) were among the early advocates of the valved horn in a period when the valved horn was not readily accepted.

Eduard Constantin Lewy has been credited as being the horn player Beethoven had in mind when he wrote the long fourth horn solo in the Adagio of his Ninth Symphony. Recent research however has shown that, while it is possible that he did perform this part as a regular member of the Kärtnertor Theater orchestra which performed the 1824 premiere of this work, the music itself is clearly intended for performance on the natural horn, not the newly invented valved horn, which E. C. Lewy probably began using in 1826. His son Richard Lewy (1827-1883) was also a prominent early valved horn player.

Joseph Rodolphe Lewy premiered Schubert's Auf dem Strom in 1828. Later, Richard Wagner consulted J. R. Lewy before composing Lohengrin, a work which makes use of a unique technical approach to the valved horn that combines using the valves to make crook changes with natural horn technique. His most significant publications are his Douze Etudes pour le Cor Chromatique et le Cor Simple from 1850 and several solo works.

For more info, see THE HORN CALL
Vol. XI, no. 1, Vol. XXIX, no. 3, and THC Annual No. 8 (1996)

Giovanni Punto (1746-1803)

punto

Giovanni Punto (aka Jan Václav Stich, Johann Wenzel Stich) was a virtuoso hornist (cor basse) who traveled most of Europe performing as a soloist and court musician. He composed many original works to display his unique virtuosity. Also an excellent violin player, Punto held positions in several orchestras as concertmaster.

Punto was born Jan Václav Stich in Zehušice, Bohemia, the son of a serf on the estate of Count Joseph Johann von Thun. He was taught singing, violin, and horn while growing up. Count Thun then sent him to study with Joseph Matiegka in Prague, Jan Schindelarz in Munich, and A. J. Hampel in Dresden. From Hampel, he learned hand-stopping technique, which he later improved and extended.

Stich returned to the rural estate of Count Thun and served for four years, but he acquired a reputation as a troublemaker. At the age of 20, he and four friends left the estate to find a better life. The Count sent soldiers after them with orders to knock out Stich's front teeth so he couldn't play horn again, but the runaways eluded the soldiers and escaped into the Holy Roman Empire, where Stich Italianized his name and became Giovanni Punto.

Punto played with the orchestra of the Prince of Hechingen, Germany, then in the Mainz court orchestra, and then toured Europe and England as a soloist. Charles Burney heard him play in Koblenz in 1772 and reported: "The Elector has a good band, in which M. Punto, the celebrated French horn from Bohemia, whose taste and astonishing execution were lately so applauded in London, is a performer."

Punto's use of hand stopping was criticized by some in London, probably because this technique was still novel in London at the time. He returned to London in 1777 and taught the horn players in the private orchestra of King George III. On his last trip to London in 1788, he performed at Gertrude Elizabeth Mara’s vocal concerts in the Pantheon, where he met a friend of Mozart’s, Michael Kelly, who noted the occasion in his own Reminiscences.

During this time, Punto played as soloist and with many court orchestras. He met Mozart in Paris in 1778. Mozart wrote to his father that "Punto plays magnifique" and composed the Sinfonia Concertante K. 297B (now lost) for him and other noted soloists (flute, oboe, and bassoon). Punto apparently contracted with Paris publishers during this visit since from this time forward nearly all his works were published in Paris editions. Previously his works were listed in Breitkopf's catalog.

Punto wanted a permanent position and a chance to conduct. After a short time in the service of the Prince Archbishop of Würzburg in 1781, he became concertmaster for the Comte d’Artois (later to become Charles X of France) in Paris. In 1787 he took a leave of absence to tour as soloist in the Rhineland.

Back in Paris for the start of the French Revolution (1789), he became the conductor of the Théâtre des Variétés Amusantes and stayed for ten years. In 1799, after failing to obtain a position at the newly founded conservatory, he moved to Munich and then to Vienna. In Vienna he met Beethoven, who wrote his Op. 17 Sonata for Horn and Piano for the both of them to premiere on 18 April 1800 at the Burgtheater. The following month they played the work again in Pest, Hungary, where a local music critic commented: "Who is this Beethoven? His name is not known to us. Of course, Punto is very well known."

Punto returned to his homeland in 1801 after 33 years away. He played a concert in the National Theater in Prague. The Prague neue Zeitung reported, "Punto received enthusiastic applause for his concertos because of his unparalleled mastery, and respected musicians said that they had never before heard horn playing like it…In his cadenzas he produced many novel effects, playing two and even three-part chords. It demonstrated again that our fatherland can produce great artistic and musical geniuses.

In 1802, after a short trip to Paris, Punto developed pleurisy, a common illness of wind players of the times. He was ill for five months, and finally passed away on 16 February 1803. He was given a magnificent funeral in the Church of St. Nicholas before thousands of people, so great was his fame at the time. Mozart’s Requiem was performed at the graveside. His tomb was inscribed: "Punto received all the applause. As the Muse of Bohemia applauded him in life, so did she mourn him in death."

Like many soloists of the time, Punto composed pieces that displayed his own talents and virtuosity. He was a cor basse player, using a silver cor solo made for him in 1778 in Paris.  Works composed by and for him show that he was a master of quick arpeggios and stepwise passagework. Punto was acclaimed as a virtuoso of the highest order, considered to be the finest horn player to date, and perhaps of all time.

Among his works are found 16 horn concerti (nos. 9, 12, 13, 15 and 16 lost), a two-horn concerto, a clarinet concerto, a horn sextet, 21 horn quartets, 47 horn trios, and 103 horn duos. Punto also revised Hampel’s horn tutor manual and wrote a book on daily exercises for the horn.

Image from copperplate engraving (1782).

Karl Stiegler (1876-1932)

stiegler.jpgPrincipal Horn Wiesbaden State Theatre (1895-1899) Solo Hornist at the Vienna State Opera (1899-1906), principal Horn of the Vienna Philharmonic (1906-d.) and professor at the State Academy for Music and Art in Vienna (1917-d.).

He kept close friendships with such notables as: Gustav Mahler, Bruno Walter, Arnold Schönberg, Richard Strauss, Franz Schmidt, and Max Reger.

A collector, editor and publisher of horn ensemble music, Stiegler was a leader in the performance and preservation of hunting horn music. He is also known as one of the professors who made the traditional Viennese F-horn sound world famous.

For more info, see THE HORN CALL
Vol. X, no. 1.

Franz Strauss (1822-1905)

fstrauss.jpgBorn in Parkenstein, Bavaria, Franz Strauss had begun his musical career by the age of 7, playing the violin at a wedding dance. After musical study with his uncles Johann Georg Walter and Franz Michael Walter, in which he learned to play the clarinet, guitar, and all brass instruments, Franz Strauss at the age of 15 entered the service of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria as a guitarist. His study on the horn continued, and it was the horn that would become his major instrument. In 1847 he joined the Bavarian court orchestra, a position he held until his retirement in 1889. Franz Strauss also served as a professor at the Academy of Music in Munich from 1871 until 1896 and served from 1875 until 1896 as the conductor of the amateur orchestra "Wilde Gung'l."

Franz Strauss married Elise Seiff, the daughter of a regimental band director, in 1851. While this was a very productive period for him as a composer and performer, it was a tragic period of his life; a 10-month-old son died of tuberculosis, and then cholera took the lives of his wife and young daughter, leaving him a widower at the age of thirty-two. Strauss did not remarry until 1863, at which time he married Josephine Pschorr, a daughter of the wealthy brewer Georg Pschorr. To this union two children would be born, and the elder, Richard Strauss (1864-1949), was destined to become a great composer.

Comments made about Franz Strauss by musical figures of the period reveal both the esteem in which he was held as a performer and something of his character as a man. A musical conservative, Franz Strauss nevertheless performed in the premiere performances of several important operas of Richard Wagner in Munich, including Tristan und Isolde (1865), Die Meistersinger (1868), Das Rheingold (1869), and Die Walküre (1870). The conductor of the first two of these premieres, Hans von Bülow (1830-1894), called Franz Strauss "the Joachim of the horn," and also commented, "The fellow is intolerable, but when he blows his horn you can't be angry with him." Wagner mirrored Bülow's comments, and is quoted as saying, "Strauss is an unbearable, curmudgeonly fellow, but when he plays his horn one can say nothing, for it is so beautiful." Franz Strauss had artistic differences with both of these figures, which make the compliments they paid to him as a performer all the more meaningful. A story recalled by Richard Strauss relates that "Wagner once went past the horn player, who was sitting in his place in moody silence, and said, 'Always gloomy, these horn players,' whereupon my father replied 'We have good reason to be.'" Another story relates a difficult situation between Franz Strauss and Bülow. As the grueling dress rehearsal wore on at 4:00 in the afternoon for the premiere of Die Meistersinger, a rehearsal that had started at 9:00 and which followed 26 other rehearsals for this premiere, all performed without an assistant horn, Franz Strauss could take it no longer. As Ernest Newman relates the story,

Strauss said bluntly that he could play no more. "Then take your pension!" said the irritated Bülow. Strauss picked up his horn, went to the Intendant, and asked for his pension "at the orders of Herr von Bülow." As he was indispensable, [Intendant Karl von] Perfall had to use all his diplomacy to smooth the trouble out.

Beyond his very significant performing career, Franz Strauss also left a legacy as a teacher. Something of his method of teaching is known, as recalled by Franz Strauss's last student Hermann Tuckermann.

The method of Franz Strauss is first of all to emphasize tone quality. He always said: "Only by sustaining tones and by interval studies can you achieve a noble tone." Therefore each lesson began with tonal exercises. With his students he worked through the horn concertos, and the important parts from opera and concert literature. He never accepted a fee for his lessons. His main interest was to impart his experience and skill to hornists.

This concern for tone must certainly have been a significant element of his success on the horn and is certainly reflected in his solo works as well.

Major publications include:

  • Fantasie, Op. 2
  • Les Adieux
  • Nocturno, Op. 7
  • Concerto, Op. 8
  • Empfindungen am Meere, Op. 12
  • Theme and Variations, Op. 13

John Ericson, 2003

For more information, see THE HORN CALL
Vol. XXIX, no. 2

Image from a watercolor by Jos. Resch (1845)

Emil Wipperich (1854-1917)

Wipperich was the principal horn in the Vienna Philharmonic (1882-1914) and was professor at the Viennese Music Academy (1895-1917). In his career, he played the Siegfried Call over fifty times.

He helped to make the traditional Viennese F-horn sound world famous, and also published orchestral studies on the symphonic works of Richard Strauss.

Helen Kotas (1916-2000)

kotasHelen Anne Kotas Hirsch was principal horn in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1941-1948); she was a pioneer as the first woman wind principal in a major American orchestra. She was also an accomplished horn soloist, outstanding teacher, and an active contributor to her community.

Kotas was born in 1916 to Bohemian immigrants and grew up in Brookfield, Illinois. She started studying piano at age six, then took up cornet in high school. The band director suggested that she play horn, so her father bought her a Wunderlich single F horn. Frank Kyrl, who played with the Chicago Symphony and lived a few blocks from Kotas, approved the instrument purchase and taught her through high school and junior college. Kotas joined the Women’s Symphony Orchestra of Chicago as fourth horn at age 14 and moved to first horn the following year.

Kotas attended Lyons Township Junior College (1932-34) and played first horn in the West Suburban Symphony Orchestra. During her second year at the college, she started studying with Louis Dufrasne, principal horn of the NBC Orchestra in Chicago. Her sister gave her a Geyer double horn the following year, and Kotas performed on Geyer horns and mouthpieces throughout her career.

Kotas earned a BA degree in psychology at the University of Chicago in 1936 while playing in the Women’s Symphony, a wind quintet, and the university orchestra. She continued with graduate studies, and also joined the Chicago Civic Orchestra, which led to her first job with the Chicago Symphony as extra. She auditioned for Fritz Reiner for third horn in the Pittsburgh Symphony on the recommendation of Wendell Hoss. Philip Farkas resigned from the Chicago Symphony in 1941, and conductor Frederick Stock wanted Kotas to take the position. Reiner agreed to release Kotas if a substitute could be found; James Chambers won the position.

Kotas joined the Chicago Symphony for the 1941-42 season and remained as principal until 1947. She said that she was honored to be a member of the orchestra and felt welcomed by her colleagues. Philip Farkas returned to Chicago in 1947 with a contract as principal horn under Artur Rodzinski. Rodzinski used a loophole in Kotas’s contract to move her down the section, and Kotas decided to leave the orchestra after the 1947-48 season.

After leaving the Chicago Symphony, Kotas was principal horn in other orchestras such as the Grant Park Symphony and Chicago Lyric Opera. She enjoyed the opera so much that she declined an invitation from Reiner in 1953 to return to the CSO. She also performed solos and chamber music, including an early performance of the Hindemith Sonata for Four Horns, championed new works, and often traveled to premiere performances in the US and Europe. She married Dr. Edwin Frederick Hirsch in 1949.

Kotas taught at the American and Sherwood Conservatories. Her students include Lowell Greer and Randall Faust.

Kotas was hit by car when crossing a street in 2000 and died several weeks later without regaining consciousness. She was remembered as a kind, generous, dedicated, and hard-working person, one whose impact on the music world remains far-reaching and enduring.

Heather Thayer wrote a tribute to Kotas for the May 2011 issue of The Horn Call.

Alfred Brain (1885-1966)

brain-aAlfred Edwin Brain, Jr., son of A.E. Brain Sr., brother of Aubrey Brain, and uncle of Dennis Brain – all distinguished horn players – immigrated to the US and influenced horn playing in Los Angeles.

Alfred (known as Alf) started to learn the trumpet when he was six, but changed to the horn at age 12 and studied with his father. He (and his brother Aubrey) studied with Friedrich Adolf Borsdorf at the Royal Academy of Music. Alf was first horn with the Scottish Orchestra in Glasgow for three years, during which time he married Gertrude Levi (1907). Returning to London, Alf became principal horn of the Queen's Hall Orchestra under Sir Henry Wood. He and his section gave the first British performance of the Schumann Konzertstück in 1909, and he an Fred Salkeld gave the first London performance of the Beethoven Sextet for two horns and strings.

Alf became the most sought-after horn player in London and took over as principal horn of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1913 when Borsdorf retired. He was injured during World War I at the French front and received the British War Medal and Victory Medal, finally being discharge in 1919 and returning to London. He soon had a monopoly of the first horn chairs of the leading orchestras.

Alf was not happy in his marriage, so he emigrated in 1922 with his daughter, Olga, to the United States to join the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch. Conductor Walter Rothwell heard Alf play and in 1923 invited him to become principal horn of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he stayed for 15 years. Artur Rodińkski asked Alf to be principal horn in Cleveland; Alf stayed with the LAPO but occasionally commuted to Cleveland. He married Straussie Sherrand in 1932; they were married for 34 years.

Film sound tracks were being developed when Alf arrived in LA, and he began to play at MGM in 1927. He can be heard in many films, including Ben Hur and King Kong. His influence in LA was incredible; although he did not like giving lessons, horn players would go to him for "consultation lessons." One of his students was Vincent DeRosa. He was the first call player for recording sessions; if Alf were available, no one else was considered. Alf left the Philharmonic at age 60 to become a full-time studio session player, "the father of studio playing" according to James Thatcher.

Alf was a natural player and a powerful player whose sound projected. He arrived in LA playing on a piston-valve Courtois F horn with a small mouthpiece. He later played a rotary-valve Schmidt F horn and eventually a five-valve Alexander B-flat/A. Like Dennis, he had a strong jaw and small, even teeth and used quite a bit of mouthpiece pressure. His phrasing was much admired and attributed to his having sung as a boy in a church choir. He was a master of the soft attack.

Alf was famous as a host, and gave large parties, cooking all the food himself. His nephews, Dennis and Leonard, visited while on tour with the RAF orchestra in 1945. Horn players from the LA Philharmonic and others from the LA area were present at a party for his nephews and others from the RAF. It was during this visit that Alf gave Dennis a horn mouthpiece that Dennis used for the rest of his life.

Alf was out-going and had a great sense of humor, telling stories, making up limericks, and playing practical jokes. He would climb up on the roof of his house to play the Siegfried horn call to greet his guests. He was also generous, always helped young horn players, and never spoke ill of others. He asked the film score orchestrators to write for eight or more horns to provide more work. When the Los Angeles Horn Club was formed in 1951, the members unanimously elected Alf as the first president.

Leighton Jones wrote "Alfred Edwin Brain (1885-1966): A Forgotten British Horn Virtuoso?" in the October 2004 issue of The Horn Call.

Joseph Singer (1909-1978)

singer
photo by Sedge Le Blang, courtesy of
the New York Philharmonic.

Joseph Singer was principal horn of the New York Philharmonic (1943-1974) and taught at Juilliard (1970-1974), but he is also known for his book Embouchure Building for French Horn. He was an influential player and teacher. His tenure of 31 years as solo horn is a record for the New York Philharmonic. He was a cousin of Arnold Jacobs.

Singer was born in Philadelphia and started on violin at age six, changing to viola at age 15. He began his musical career as a viola player with the Detroit Symphony (1927-1933). He started playing the horn while in Detroit, playing extra with the symphony just a year and a half after taking it up, and later studied with Bruno Jaenicke, Walter Macdonald, and Joseph Franzl. He started in the Boston Symphony as seventh horn in 1933, then became third and alternate first horn and continued under Koussevitzky until 1943, when he was appointed principal horn of the New York Philharmonic under Artur Rodziński. Over his long career in New York, he performed a number times as soloist with the orchestra and was also active in chamber music ensembles.

Before becoming a member of the Juilliard faculty, Singer taught at the New York College of Music, the Mannes College of Music, and (as guest faculty) Brigham Young University.

Singer had absolute pitch and exactness for rhythmical subdivision. His years of playing viola in Detroit provided insights for analytical teaching. He continued to play viola occasionally and believed that his experience as a string player proved a good foundation for the horn. He taught concertos and orchestral excerpts, but no etudes; he said, "Practice them at home if you like, but don’t bring them to the lesson!" He instructed his students to check scores to correct notes or articulations that were incorrect in the current excerpt books. He played a Wunderlich double horn, and also a Paxman.

Singer was a Class "A" amateur ham radio operator and built his own radio-phonograph. He repaired electronic equipment and was interested in traveling, photography, and cars.

Dale Whitman wrote a tribute to Singer for the April 1979 issue of The Horn Call. Other material was generously shared by the New York Philharmonic Archives. The photo is by Sedge Le Blang, courtesy of the New York Philharmonic.

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